These were the moments Torin Dorn always dreamed of conquering.
Down two, 5.5 seconds left, in his final home game at PNC Arena, N.C. State’s lone senior rose up from behind the 3-point arc, and buried the go-ahead basket over Georgia Tech.
His Senior Night. His senior moment.
Or that would’ve been the good story, at least. Except, Tech drove the length of the floor and dunked just before the buzzer, drawing a foul in the process.
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Final: Tech 63, State 61.
“It seemed like a fitting ending,” Dorn said of his shot after the game. “But we didn’t get a stop to finish it off. Happens like that sometimes.”
Sometimes? Basketball disappointment is second-nature to him at this point, the product, he says, of always being overlooked or under-appreciated.
But this week, N.C. State returns to Dorn’s hometown of Charlotte for the ACC Tournament, fighting for its NCAA Tournament life. It’ll take at least one win to ensure the Wolfpack get invited.
Turns out Dorn might get a new chance at his signature senior moment as early as Wednesday. What better place than back where it all began?
‘He always had something to prove’
Frail frail — that’s Dorn’s assessment of himself as a kid.
“Like, used-to-get-pushed-around frail,” Dorn told the Observer last week. “My mom used to kid with me about not being able to do push-ups.” He laughs. “It was bad. Real bad.”
Because of his slight build, Dorn never followed in his father’s footsteps. Torin Dorn Sr. played college football at North Carolina before several years in the NFL.
Instead, the son spent hours at home and at the Mallard Creek Optimist Club practicing hoops. One of his earliest basketball memories, he says, was watching the 2004-2005 national championship team at North Carolina — specifically guards Rashad McCants and Wayne Ellington — and imitating those players’ moves.
And over time, Dorn grew from just another kid dreaming of college basketball to one with a real future in the game. He sprouted to 6-foot-3 before his sophomore season at Vance High, and eventually 6-foot-5 by the time he graduated.
“That’s when he really started to believe (in himself) because that’s when he started to get stronger in the weight room and could finish in the paint,” Dorn Sr. said. “Prior to, he’d get in the paint and get knocked to the floor and look around like, ‘Huh?’”
But even as he sprouted, North Carolina nor any other of Dorn’s ACC dream schools ever came calling.
“When he played in high school, he had to do everything. He had to bring the ball up the court, he had to get the rebounds, and he had to shoot the ball,” Dorn Sr. said. “A lot of the things people were saying — ‘We’ve never seen him out on a fast break’ — well, he had to get the rebound!
“The thing about it was, he always had something to prove.”
‘Nobody expected me to do what I did’
Dorn signed with nearby Charlotte, where there was still the matter of proving his worth.
A good example: Dorn wanted to commit to the 49ers the same day as Keyshawn Woods, a more highly touted guard from Gastonia and the state Gatorade Player of the Year. But...
“I go to commit, and they were kind of backing off, like ‘Uh....’” Dorn explained. “I’m like, ‘What (is going on)?’ So they called me back later and said they wanted to have a plan for every player, and ‘We want you, but we’re going to think about redshirting you.’”
Faced with sitting out a season to “develop,” Dorn spent the spring and summer before his freshman season doing track workouts for various jumping events, bolstering his speed and athleticism.
It wasn’t until an early scrimmage alongside Charlotte teammates revealed that, on second thought, maybe Dorn didn’t need a year to prepare.
“After I started playing, they were like, ‘Yeah... we can’t redshirt you.’ Forget about that,” Dorn said, laughing. “I just think it’s a crazy story how even at that level, even at Charlotte, nobody expected me to do what I did.”
Dorn moved to the 49ers’ starting lineup midway through his freshman year. After averaging a team-high 12 points per game, he was named Conference USA Freshman of the Year and a national Freshman of the Year finalist.
Then came a coaching change and mass transfers. Soon, coaches started calling Dorn to inquire about his interest in transferring.
He whittled his final choices down to Texas, Florida, Miami, and N.C. State before ultimately choosing the Wolfpack, an ACC school that was also closest to home.
“All the high majors that didn’t recruit me out of high school started recruiting me out of college. It’s like a coming-of-age story, you know?” Dorn said. “It was a place that I always knew I would be, and playing in the ACC was something I prayed for every night before I’d go to bed since I was like 11.
“Just for that to come to fruition was beautiful.”
‘It’s unreal to think about’
After sitting out a year due to the NCAA’s mandatory transfer policy, Dorn joined State’s starting lineup midway through his first year. The last two seasons, he’s led the Wolfpack in both scoring and rebounding, averaging 13.8 points and 6.9 boards per game this year.
The highs these past three seasons have been astounding: two late 3-pointers last season to defeat No. 2 Duke at home; or 20 points in an overtime win over No. 10 UNC in Chapel Hill weeks later.
And while there have been lows to match — Senior Night among them — Dorn knows there’s still a chance to end his collegiate career on the upswing.
N.C. State’s middling 21-10 record, combined with the worst nonconference schedule in the country, has the Wolfpack squarely on the NCAA Tournament bubble. The Pack’s ACC Tournament opener against Clemson on Wednesday is now essentially a play-in game to the big dance — winner makes it, loser doesn’t.
It all comes down to one more game — for Dorn’s season, but also his career.
“Not many people can say they’ve done some of the things I’ve been able to do ... It’s humbling, man,” Dorn said. “It’s unreal to think about from where it all started.”